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Fin. Min. curtails spending on uni lecturers’ foreign travel

Thursday, 19th of January 2023

The Finance Ministry has informed the University Grants Commission (UGC) that it will no longer release funds to purchase air tickets and provide other facilities for university lecturers going abroad on sabbatical leave or for academic studies. The Ministry stated that a circular was issued on August 15 last year suspending the use of local funds to finance foreign travel for academic and training purposes in State institutions financed by the Consolidated Fund. Accordingly, it has informed the UGC that a circular has already been issued on the matter and due to the extremely dire financial situation in the country, the Treasury cannot make an exception only for higher education institutions.

The UGC has also been informed that since all new recruitments to State institutions have now ceased, the Commission must ensure that both academic and other day-to-day functions of universities can be conducted continuously when approving foreign leave for academic staff. The Treasury noted that there’s a long-running tendency among lecturers to misuse the facility accorded to them to go on paid/unpaid foreign leave for academic purposes, with many violating their bond agreements by opting to stay on in foreign countries. This means that the State’s objective in facilitating academics to travel abroad for academic purposes has failed, Treasury officials said.

The UGC has also been informed to ensure that any funds levied from lecturers who violate their bond agreements are immediately credited to State revenue instead of being used for other purposes. UGC Chairman Prof Sampath Amaratunga said university lecturers are accorded one year of sabbatical leave after seven years of continuous work. “If this practice is suddenly stopped, it will result in universities turning into deserts,” Prof Amaratunga said, warning that frustrated lecturers would quit. About 100 lecturers are already studying abroad either on sabbatical or in training programmes, he revealed.

There are about 9,000 lecturers in the university system. He said the decision by the Finance Ministry will place the country’s higher education system in a very difficult situation. “It is unfair for them to take this decision without consulting us first.” He added that the UGC hoped to discuss the matter with the Treasury at the earliest. Quote: There’s a long-running tendency among lecturers to misuse the facility accorded to them to go on paid/unpaid foreign leave for academic purposes, with many opting to stay on in foreign countries. - DWI

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